Graduate programs in physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University are among the top programs in the field. A wide range of research projects -- both theoretical and experimental -- are available in Astrophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, Particle Physics, and Plasma Spectroscopy. Students have considerable flexibility in choosing their research directions and in designing their path through graduate school. Recipients of Ph.D. from our department hold positions of leadership in teaching and research, in academia and in industry. This page provides an Overview and information on Advising, Pre-thesis research, Requirements for the Ph.D., Graduate courses, Thesis research and defense, Requirements for the M.A. degree, Financial support.
Graduate study in physics and astronomy at Hopkins is intended primarily to prepare Ph.D. graduates for careers in teaching and research in physics and astronomy, or in applications such as biophysics, space physics, and industrial research. Entering students may elect to work toward a Ph.D. in Physics or a Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics. The two programs are similar in structure, and the academic requirements for the two degrees differ only in the set of required courses. The department does not admit students who intend to pursue the Master of Arts degree exclusively.
We have recently revised our graduate program to reduce the emphasis on classes and exams and to get students involved in research and in the intellectual life of the department more quickly and effectively. All students entering in the autumn of 2013 and later will fall under these new revised requirements. The students who started in Fall 2012 or before were given the choice of pursuing the new or the old program; all incoming students elected the new program.
All entering students are assigned to a first-year advisor who works closely with them during their first year. The role of the first-year advisor is to shepherd the student through the first two years of graduate study, or until a thesis advisor is found. The first-year advisor advises them on courses of study, helps familiarize them with the department, and provides guidance in finding research opportunities. The students meet with the first-year advisor during Orientation before the start of the fall term, during Intersession, at the conclusion of the first year, in the second year after the research exam, and periodically throughout the second year until they find a thesis advisor. A one-day diagnostic exam is administered during Orientation. If the exam reveals deficiencies, then the first-year advisor may suggest a course of action (e.g., enrollment in a relevant undergraduate class or independent reading) to remedy that deficiency.
Students are encouraged to find a thesis advisor near the beginning of the second year, and must find an advisor no later than the beginning of the third year. Once a thesis advisor is found, a thesis committee, consisting of the thesis advisor and two additional faculty members, is appointed to track the student's subsequent progress toward the PhD. To explore research directions and to find a thesis advisor, students participate in the Fall Research Jamboree during the Orientation; attend seminars and colloquia in the department; and meet with individual faculty members to discuss potential research projects.
The principal goal of graduate study in physics and astronomy is to train the student to conduct original research. We have therefore re-structured our graduate program in the first year to emphasize research and to facilitate the transition between the classwork that characterizes the undergraduate education to the research that ultimately constitutes the bulk of the graduate-school experience.
Every first-year student is required to get involved in research during the first and second semesters, and during the summer after the first year. First year students must find, by the end of the third week of class in the fall semester, and by the end of the first week of class the second semester (and before the summer term begins), a member of the professorial faculty who agrees to advise them in some sort of research project. The first-semester project continues through Intersession in January. The spring-semester research project continues until the end of the spring semester. Students may continue with one advisor through the entire first year, or they may choose to cycle through several different research advisors. In some cases, one of these first-year research advisors may become the thesis advisor, but in others, the thesis advisor may be somebody else.
The nature of these first-year (and second-year) research projects will vary from student to student and from one sub-field of physics to another. In some cases they may lead to published research. In other cases, they may be first steps in a longer-term research project. Alternatively, they may comprise reading or independent-study projects to develop background for subsequent research. The student must provide at the end of each semester a brief written summary of their research experience. This research requirement continues until the end of the second year, or until the student finds a thesis advisor, whichever comes first. A series of short research presentations are given by faculty during Orientation to introduce incoming graduate students to the various research programs and prospective faculty research advisors in the department (Fall Research Jamboree).
At the beginning of the second year, each student takes a one-hour oral research exam that consists of a 30-minute presentation to a committee of three faculty members about the research they have carried out in their first year and questions from the committee about the research and related areas of research.
Requirements for the PhD
The requirements for the PhD are as follows:
1. Completion of four semesters of required courses (listed below), passed with a grade of B- or better.
2. Involvement in research in every semester in which the student is enrolled. During the first and second years, or until a thesis advisor is identified (whichever comes first), this is in the form of pre-thesis research as described above.
3. Completion of the departmental research exam at the beginning of the second year.
4. Identification of a thesis advisor no later than the beginning of the third year.
5. Completion of the University Graduate Board Oral Exam in the third year.
6. Completion of thesis research and defense, as discussed below.
The thesis is expected to be completed within five or six years; continuation in the PhD program beyond the 6th year is possible only upon the approval of the department chair following petition from the thesis advisor.
There are four semesters of required classes for the Physics PhD and for the Astronomy and Astrophysics PhD that must be passed with a grade of B- or better. Students are strongly encouraged to complete these requirements in their first year, although they may be deferred until the second year under certain circumstances. Some of the required classes may be waived, at the discretion of the first-year advisor, if the student has successfully completed a comparable class elsewhere. The required classes are as follows:
PhD in Physics
171.605-606 Quantum Mechanics
171.703 Advanced Statistical Mechanics
PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics
171.611 Stellar structure and evolution
171.612 Interstellar medium and astrophysical fluid dynamics
171.613 Radiative astrophysics
171.627 Astrophysical dynamics
In addition to the courses above, Astrophysics students take 172.633 Language of Astrophysics in their first semester. All students take first year seminar (172.632) in their second semester where they practice giving presentations and discuss current literature.
While only a small number of graduate courses are required, the department offers a comprehensive set of high-quality graduate courses. Taking additional courses enables the students to broaden the scope of their graduate education or to jump-start their research in a new field. Students are encouraged to design their course of study in consultation with their first-year advisor and / or their research advisor.
Thesis Research and Defense
After the student chooses a thesis advisor, the department forms his/her Thesis Committee consisting of the advisor and two other faculty members (all Thesis Committees contain at least two full-time faculty from the department). These committees function as extended advisory bodies; students have the opportunity to discuss their progress and problems with several faculty. They also conduct a formal annual review of each student's progress.
Research leading to the dissertation can be carried out not only within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, but, with appropriate arrangements, either partly or entirely at other locations. Recent dissertation research has been done in collaboration with members of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Space Telescope Science Institute and Goddard Space Flight Center.
Examples of recently published research by our students can be found here.
At the conclusion of thesis research, the student defends the written dissertation before a faculty committee.
Requirements for the M.A. Degree
The department does not admit students who intend to pursue the master's degree exclusively. However, students in our department's Ph.D. program, and students in other Ph.D. programs at Johns Hopkins University, may apply to fulfill the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Students from other JHU departments must seek approval from their home department and from the Department of Physics and Astronomy before beginning their M.A. studies.
Students must master the basic undergraduate material covered by the following courses:
171.204 Classical Mechanics
171.301-302 Electromagnetic Theory
171.303-304 Quantum Mechanics
171.312 Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics
Courses taken elsewhere may qualify at the discretion of the Graduate Program Committee.
Students must complete six one-semester graduate-level (at least three hours/week) courses offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy. For this purpose, each semester of 171.415-416 (Mathematical Methods for Physicists) counts as a graduate-level course. In addition, 171.801 or 802 (Independent Graduate Research) may be substituted for any of the above-mentioned graduate or undergraduate courses. The research course must include an essay supervised and approved by a faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
The student must receive a grad of B- or above in each of the courses. The graduate level courses may be retaken once; the undergraduate courses cannot be repeated.
In addition, the student must complete at least two semesters of research projects, as described in the requirements for the Ph.D., and complete the departmental research exam.
Students in good standing are normally supported by a combination of fellowships, research assistantships and teaching assistantships. The financial package covers the tuition and student health insurance, and provides a stipend commensurate with that of other leading research institutions.